Site work



FRANKLINTON — Several sites along a number of Washington Parish streams could create lakes of various sizes if they were dammed at the right spot, the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission was told at a meeting earlier this week.

The commission wasn't told exactly where those sites are, though.

The main item on the agenda for the commission's second monthly meeting was a presentation by State Rep. Francis Thompson, who was instrumental in the development of a reservoir in his part of the state.

But before he arrived, Tony Beaubouef of the federal Natural Resources Conservation office in Franklinton told the group that he has already started some preliminary "what if" — what if a dam was placed at a certain place on a certain stream — to see if Washington Parish has some viable reservoir sites.

The answer is yes, Beauboeuf said. He has found a number of locations where a dam would create a reservoir of 300 to 2,000 acres of surface water.

But in sharing that information, Beauboeuf had two caviats: he is not ready to give the locations because he is still preparing maps and site descriptions, and the "what-if" locations would still require full studies for possible environmental impact, economic and demographic implications, flood and erosion control possibilities, and cost.

By unanimous consent, the commission authorized chairman Huey Pierce and the commission's executive board to meet with Beauboeuf in the near future to review the "what-if" locations Beaubeouf has identified to see if any of them warrant further study by the commission.

In the meantime, Rep. Thompson spent nearly two hours telling the commission, in effect: "Do it."

Thompson calls his district in the far northeastern corner of the state "one of the poorest areas in the nation." He said he has seen industries — and their jobs — come and go, and he decided to find something that would spur development in his area north of Tallulah "that would not go away."

Now, after nearly two decades of planning and nearly a decade of actual work, the Poverty Point Reservoir is nearly filled and will "open" as a state park later this year.

Thompson said Washington Parish is on the right track in establishing a reservoir commission to study the reservoir idea for the parish and to help move the project along.

And he said development of a reservoir would be easier in Washington Parish than it has been in East Carroll Parish. While East Carroll is flat and required years of digging and earth relocation, Washington Parish has rolling hills and streams which could fill the valleys in-between.

"It excites me to see the amount of natural waterways you have in this area," Thompson said. "I want to come back next year and see the site (that you have selected)."

Thompson said that while a reservoir can certainly be built for erosion or flood control, if that is the type of funding that is available, a major benefit will be recreational and economic development. The Poverty Point Reservoir already has a marina and home sites under development and an adjacent golf course and motor home park are in the works.

Similar things can happen in Washington Parish, Thompson said, "but it's not going to fly in here and form itself."

Thompson also warned the commissioners and public officials who were present that they should be prepared for some opposition - and it may or may not come from people whose property might be affected by construction of a reservoir. While many people may be happy to end up with property near a lake, the development of the reservoir could require the "taking" of property from some landowners. But at Poverty Point every affected landowner accepted the negotiated value "plus other considerations" for their property and none had to be seized.

"It was kind of joke when I started talking about it," Thompson said, and he acknowledged that there is still some criticism of the project. "But, he added, "the project has turned into something much bigger than anybody at home could have imagined."

The lake will create 250 permanent lake-related jobs and generate $8 million a year in the local economy, after a total investment of about $27 million dollars.

Washington Parish's project does not have to be that costly, Thompson said, depending on the size and scope pf the development, but he urged the commissioners and elected officials to "do something as big as you can... you need to visualize the best it can be."

And it needs to be done soon, Thompson warned. He said he thinks the Louisiana Legislature may be willing to fund several more reservoirs to help economic and recreational development in the state, but there could be competition for the money that will be allocated to build them. Enabling legislation has already been filed for study and creation of a reservoir in Allen Parish in southwest Louisiana, and several other parishes in addition to Washington Parish are also beginning to look at reservoirs.

The legislative resolution that created the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission is not at broad as the Allen Parish proposal, but it could be expanded in a future session of the Legislature to put Washington Parish ahead of the other parishes that are beginning to study reservoir projects.

"I think those that don't jump on it will miss the boat," Thompson said. "I think three or four will be built in the state."

Thompson was accompanied to the meeting by State Rep. Ben Nevers and State Sen. Jerry Thomas.


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